Blended spaces?

Blended spaces? May 21, 2015

In an article on Revelation 14, David deSilva summarizes recent biblical work that employs a social-rhetorical mode of interpretation. He draws on Vernon Robbins’s notion of “rhetography,” the ways in which texts create mental pictures in hearers and readers. This is not to dismiss the more common idea of verbal rhetoric (rhetology) but only to note that pictures as well as words can persuade.

Socio-rhetorical critics look for the conceptual domain into  which particular pictures fit, and which those pictures evoke. Robbins isolates six such spaces in the Bible, “rhetorolects” or rhetorical dialects: wisdom, priestly, miracle, prophetic, procreation, and apocalyptic. These are “cultural frames,” that are “archetypally native to particular social spaces,” each of which has a distinctive operational “logic.” Mental pictures aren’t always located purely in a single domain; mental pictures “blend,” as the logic and rhetography of one domain is mapped onto another (275).

Enough of abstract jargon. DeSilva gives this helpful example of blending: “‘The day of the harvest’ is an image that first evokes a larger context of meaning—specifically, farmers laboring from seed time, through the growing season, and through the time of harvesting, the end of one cycle of agrarian experience. This conceptual domain and its inherent, teleological structure is then brought to bear on the topic of history, the course of human experience at its broadest level, with the mapping consisting of the construction of analogy between the realm of agriculture (and the structure within the cycle of planting and harvesting) and the realm of human experience in toto” (277).

In Revelation 14, he sees a blending of apocalyptic/empire conceptual space with that of cosmic/divine in the fact that an angel announces “good news” – good news of the “rule and accession of a new emperor/king”: “The scene of the first angel’s announcement blends experiences of empire, in which a herald or envoy can proclaim an accession announcement to the multiethnic, multilingual people groups across the provinces or issue an edict calling for acknowledgment of imperial rule, with the traditional Jewish-Christian cosmology in which God rules over the cosmos he created and issues forth messages and brings about his will through angelic messengers and ministers” (283).

I have two questions about this, which may amount to the same question, and constitute an objection to the notion of “blending.” Is “blending” the right metaphor? Is it the case that biblical writers and their original hearers/readers thought of agricultural and historical time as belonging to separate realms or spaces and then “blended” them to come up with the vision of an eschatological harvest? Or, is it perhaps the case that for them the whole sequence of planting, growing, maturation, and harvest was a created parable of the course of history? Is the notion of an agricultural space that is “merely” agricultural an abstraction, perhaps a modern one?

The other question is of a more epistemological kind: If we live by metaphor, if metaphors are conceptual and not merely verbal, and if conceptual metaphors are simply inescapable, are we looking at “blending” or something else – not a mixing of two “pure” spaces, but a world-picture that is always already impure?

Finally, if these objections hold, then the question is: Does it make any hermeneutical difference? Does is change the way we might engage the text, or the world that the text discloses?

(DeSilva, “Seeing Things John’s Way: Rhetography and Conceptual Blending in Revelation 14:6-13,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 18:2 [2008] 271-98.)

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